U.S. Senator Ron Johnson has called Central Wisconsin postal worker Timm Kopp a “courageous whistle blower.” Two things are clear from talking with Kopp. First, he wears that title uncomfortably. Second, he had no political motivations when he complained about a longstanding practice last year that created staffing shortages at post offices around the country.
The practice is known as “Leave Without Pay,” or LWOP. Postal carriers were allowed to take unpaid leaves so they could be paid by their union to campaign on behalf of candidates in the fall 2016 elections. But many of the carriers requesting LWOP in key battleground states, including Wisconsin, worked at post offices that were tightly staffed. When local managers balked at granting some of the leave, higher up managers countermanded them and directed the time off be given. In some cases this led to thousands of dollars in overtime to cover the absences. An investigation by federal authorities determined that the practice was a systemic violation of the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act is a federal law that restricts the political activity of federal and Postal Service employees while on duty, on government property, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle. It also prohibits candidates campaigning for election to public office on leased or owned postal property.
Kopp told Media Trackers that the practice of allowing LWOP for campaigning had been going on for a long time, yet nobody had bothered to look into the impact it had on local post offices:
When we had some request for people to take leave and someone actually left our office for this last election, you could see it was causing overtime and that was my concern. So I started asking people about it; how the union was compensating the company if they were…To me, the Post Office has always stressed that it’s supposed to be a neutral entity. As a government office and as someone who interacts with the public every day, it’s very crucial that the Post Office did not look bias in any way. It turned into a little more than I thought it would be. But it was something that needed to be taken care of.
In fact, an investigation would determine that managers in six key battleground states, including Wisconsin, felt pressure to grant the leave, even though staffing levels compromised the operation of the offices. The investigation would find a systemic violation of the Hatch Act. But investigators also said the probe couldn’t identify a specific person or persons responsible, so no individual discipline was warranted. But the Postal Service acknowledged that going forward it needed to change its practices.
Kopp says because the practice was so longstanding, nobody seemed to understand Kopp’s concerns.
I think they had good intentions in what they wanted to do, and I have no problem with them doing that, but it can’t affect the company. So, there were some other options for down the road. If people would like to take vacation for this, that would be fine. Because it’s not above and beyond the normal staffing absences that would occur.
Kopp says he contacted the offices of Republican Senator Ron Johnson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin to report the issue last fall. He didn’t get a reply from either. He then contacted Congressman Sean Duffy. About a week after that he heard back from Johnson’s office. He never heard back from Baldwin’s office.
He says he doesn’t want the episode to be black eye for the Postal Service, but he thinks it’s important the apublic trust the agency.
You can hear Media Trackers’ entire interview with Kopp here: